New research: Modernist architecture can be bad for your health
The neurobiology of visual processing shows that visually consistent, accessible, and beautiful traditional architecture is optimal for human well-being.
—Aenne Brielmann, Nir Buras, Nikos Salingaros, Richard Taylor
WASHINGTON, DC, USA, January 19, 2022 /EINPresswire.com/ — Analysis of data from several scientific sources, this has just been published landmark article in the prestigious Urban Science Journal answers the question “What’s going on in your brain when you’re walking down the street?”
Its authors, a neuroscientist, a mathematician, a physicist and an architect explain that we perceive urban space in the same way as our ancestors perceived the landscape of our emergence, the African savannah. With important implications for city design based on our perception of streetscapes, the authors conclude that, in order to promote well-being, we should design streetscapes to “please” our brains.
Due to their prevalence in nature, our brains have evolved to be fluent in the visual language of multiple fractals, patterns that repeat at different scales, as we see in the patterns of trees, water, mountains, and of clouds. Since the visual brain is so well equipped to process these multiple fractals, their presence facilitates object recognition, navigation, and this gives us an overall experience of beauty that promotes well-being.
Based on the composition of the human brain, the authors sequence and characterize the early stages of visual processing. Laying this perceptual foundation validates the common urban experience we all share – places that most people recognize as beautiful or ugly. The perception of multiple fractals – a fundamental human characteristic – is among the first things to process, within 50ms.
• Traditional styles around the world typically feature multiple fractal patterns. This multiple fractality gives an overall experience of beauty that promotes well-being, with benefits as striking as a 60% reduction in stress and mental fatigue for observers.
• This is true both for elaborate buildings – the Taj Mahal, Beijing’s Summer Palace or the original Penn Station – and for simple “vernacular buildings”, eg Brooklyn brownstones, traditional houses Balinese Angkul-Angkul or Georgian townhouses.
• But since the Second World War, we have been building in a way that is dissociated from the human experience. Mistakes in urban design and construction over the past century have consistently created urban scenes devoid of beauty. The lack of multiple fractality in modernist buildings and spaces renders them “incoherent” to the human brain, causing stress in the human experiencing them.
The authors’ summary of the physiology and psychology of visual perception brings clarity to the meaning of the environments we need to create to measurably increase people’s well-being. Analysis of the multiple fractals of architecture and urban design sheds light on why traditional buildings and classical planning techniques provide the healthiest and most useful long-term urban environments.
In the process, the article uncovers a humanistic path based on human neurobiology for the future of urban design. For the best performance and well-being of people, the authors offer a scientific toolkit of architecture and urban design that reintroduces health-promoting designs into our cities.
REAL WORLD IMPLICATIONS
• Impacting users, tourists, owners, developers, cities and governments, stakeholders can be held responsible for the negative implications of modernist buildings, including potentially adverse impacts on health and well-being.
• Development parties should consider traditional architecture and traditional planning as an investment in the well-being not only of people, but also of their wallets and assets.
Aenne A. Brielmann, Max-Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Tübingen, Germany
Nir H. Buras, Classical Planning Institute, Washington D.C.
Nikos A. Salingaros, University of Texas at San Antonio, Texas
Richard P. Taylor, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR